“You shall not commit adultery” (Exodus 20:14). This commandment goes well with the 4th Commandment. It is a recognition of the sacredness and the responsibilities of marriage. It is an invitation to the happiness that results from true fidelity. It is a recognition that sexuality is a profound reality in our lives, but that it must be understood in its true proportions. It is also a recognition of the fact that man and woman are equal in their dignity, being made, as we know in faith, in the image and likeness of God.
Our sexuality is a gift from God. We are called on by God to understand its power and its beauty, and to use it in accordance with God’s law of love. It is the powerful, physical, bonding force of a marriage relationship. In understanding and using it in this way it becomes a means for us to imitate God’s generosity and fecundity with one another, in the flesh. Marriage is the union of a man and a woman. This is why we are told in the scriptures: “Therefore, a man leaves his father and his mother and cleaves to his wife, and they become one flesh” (Genesis 2:24). It is that unity, that unique relationship that is to be honored. It is to be a relationship of mutual respect, recognizing the infinite dignity in which each is made. In a marriage rooted in this kind of love, each recognizes the other as gift and treats the other accordingly. A great meditation for any married couple, all throughout a marriage, is the beautiful hymn to love that Paul gives us in 1 Corinthians 13:1-13.
Jesus handles this commandment as well. Once again, he gives us a new perspective on the idea of fidelity in marriage when he challenges his listeners, and us, with this admonition from his Sermon on the Mount: You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ But I say to you that every one who looks at a woman (or a man) lustfully has already committed adultery with her (him) in his/her heart. What God has joined together, let not man put asunder” (Matthew 19:6). God does not fool around with his commandments. What he proposes to us is both the whole truth, and the means to the happiness that our souls truly desire. These are not, as the comedian proposed, “suggestions” from God. They bear the full weight of all that is true, good, and beautiful. They are in complete compliance with our God-given nature. They are not in defiance of that nature. In obeying them we are leaning more and more into the divine dignity that we were made in from the beginning.
Of course, as human beings, we know that sin and temptation are ever at our doors. We are weak. We often give in to the powerful stirrings of the flesh. We live in a culture that has distorted the meanings of sex and love until they are almost unrecognizable. Divorce is more common than fidelity. Cohabitation has become the norm. The idea of a commitment of any kind, but certainly one that would last a lifetime, has become anathema to many in our time. The media, magazines, the movies, and TV are rife with infidelity and casual sex. Sex is no longer sacred, but something that looks much more like a mere toy, a thing to be used in the selfish effort to satisfy the individual ego. Infidelity in marriage is an abject denial of the dignity of the spouse. It is the ultimate sin of putting the self above all else. It is a denial of the gift of the other. It is the breaking of a sacred vow, a vow like no other. The remedy for this is the practice of the virtue of self-control, until it becomes a habit. This self-control honors the self and makes the self a more pure gift to the other. When married couples come to see each other in this way, and respond to each other out of this recognition of shared infinite dignity, they truly become a sacred, unbreakable union. Of course, this happens most powerfully when God is the center of the marriage relationship.
Lord help us to love one another as you love us. Give us the grace to be faithful to one another, to care for one another with loving concern. Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive one another. Help us to grow in faith and in loving fidelity in our marriages. We ask this in your name, Jesus. Amen!
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